24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

6:00pm, Tokyo

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The doorbell of the apartment rang. From inside her room, Naru heard her mother answer the door and greet Umino. "Naru-chan!" Mrs. Osaka called out. "Umino-san is here!"

"Hi, Naru-chan! Hurry up so we won't be late!" Umino added.

"I'll be right there!" Naru called back. She looked at herself in the mirror, trying to decide whether or not to ditch the familiar ribbon she tied her hair back with. She was used to it, and it was a cute look, but she wondered if it was time for her to try a more grown-up look. She was seventeen, after all; she would be a college student before much longer. She pulled the ribbon out and shook her loose hair around her face for a tousled look, and examined her reflection. She liked the look, but it didn't seem right. She almost didn't recognize herself, and she was afraid others might not recognize her... But that was silly. Her mother and Umino and her friends wouldn't forget who she was just because she had a different hairstyle. All the same, something made her afraid that she might miss out on something important if she did change her hair.

With a pang of regret for the more sophisticated style, she tied her hair back again and continued putting on her makeup. Sometimes she felt like she had somehow slipped into the wrong life, like her real life was somewhere else but she wasn't living it. Which was ridiculous, of course. She had a good life - she had a great relationship with her mother, and Umino was the nicest boyfriend any girl could want, although he did seem a little distant sometimes. He was just distracted; someone as smart as he was was always thinking about a lot of different things. And she had good friends, though she did miss her old friendship with Usagi. Somehow Usagi had become preoccupied with a completely different group of friends, and the two of them had grown apart. Sometimes Naru felt like there was something about Usagi that she should know; it teased at the edges of her mind, and once she had even asked Usagi if there was something going on that Usagi wanted to tell her about. Usagi had denied it, and she and Naru had continued to drift apart, and the thing that Naru had been sure she knew disappeared from her mind.

Naru finished with her mascara and checked her lipstick. All this business about forgetting things and a different life was silly. She'd been studying too hard lately for college entrance exams, that was all. She and Umino had a date this evening to go walking by the harbor and get something to eat there, then go to the Juuban Public Library and study some more. It would have been nice to spend an evening away from books and notes and memorizing, but when she'd suggested that to Umino, he'd looked at her like she'd suggested jumping off a cliff and flying to the moon. "If we're going to get into the university of our dreams, Naru-chan, we can never give up!"

The plan was that they would go to the same college and study - not exactly the same things; Naru had no interest in computer science, but she wasn't bad at math, and Umino thought she could be brilliant at it if she just studied hard enough. And then they could take their university math classes together, and...

Sometimes Naru wanted to scream. It felt like Umino already had her life planned out for her, and it was the wrong life. She wanted to be a nurse or a teacher; she was good at math and science, but she wanted to help people, too. Umino pointed out that math and science were very helpful; they made possible all the technology that made life so much better now than ever before. But that wasn't what she meant. She wanted to work with people. If she could help children reach their dreams, or save lives -

At the thought of saving lives, a pain always pricked at her heart and she felt a twinge of guilt. As though saving lives was the only thing she could do to make up for - what? As far as she knew, she had never done physical harm to anyone. Well, except for the times when she had to bop Umino on the head when he was being oblivious or embarrassing. But she always tried to be gentle, at least.

A knock sounded on her bedroom door. "Hurry up, Naru-chan; you shouldn't keep Umino-san waiting," her mother said.

"Coming, Mama," Naru said. With a sigh, she checked her hair and makeup once more. Not that it mattered; she didn't think Umino ever really looked at her. But she still wanted to look her best. In case... Well, she didn't know in case what. But, just in case. Then she shook herself. Enough of this wanting something that she didn't even know what it was, when she already had everything a girl could want. It was time to get serious about her life and focus on moving forward instead of looking back at something that had never been there. With that resolution, she picked up her purse and left her room.

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